Author Archives: Sasan Beni
We were watching TV, Two and a Half Men or Big Bang Theory, I can’t recall. I was playing poker on my phone, not sure how the conversation started in the first place. Somebody on whatever show was on must’ve brought it up. One of the cats was lying on my lap and I was on a roll, finally winning some money back.
Jackie said, “So, how often do you masturbate?”
“What?” I chuckled, looking at her briefly and turning back to my poker game. I had to fold that hand. I turned back to her. She was waiting for a response, her serious gaze cloaked a smile not far behind. “Once in a while,” I said.
“Once a week…? Two weeks?”
“I don’t know. I don’t…I don’t have a set schedule. Once in a while.”
“Where do you do it?”
“What?” I chuckled again.
“Where do you do it?”
“Where…?” I muttered, fiddling with my phone and folding another hand in advance.
“You do it in the shower, don’t you?”
“No, I um…”
“Oh god, in bed? Do you do it in our bed?”
“You watch porn in our bed!”
I wish I had a snapshot of my face so I could forever remember the moment, my stuttering shame. I think I was smiling, smiling like an imbecile, but I’ll never know for sure. I said, “I don’t watch porn.”
We paused. My eyes darted around the room and landed on my phone, still in my hand, but I’d long been kicked out of the poker table, as if they knew I had more important things at hand. I sighed, “I do it in the bathroom, on the toilet.”
“Yes,” I muttered, pushing the cat off my lap. She cursed at me on her way down and I don’t think I was smiling any more, but I’m willing to bet that I still looked like an imbecile. I began to tell her everything, while trying to avoid any direct eye contact, of course. “I sit on the toilet,” I sighed, “Every once in a while I do it, I…I close my eyes, you know? And yeah, I…”
“Jerk off with your eyes closed?”
“On the toilet, yes…” I dropped my head slightly and closed my eyes, but that was ruined. So much for closing my eyes in peace. Then came the voice in my head, “Just smile, idiot! Can’t turn back now, so just smile. You can still turn it around on her, you know?” I did so right away. “How often do you masturbate?” I exclaimed, turning toward her frantically, almost rising off the couch.
“I don’t anymore, vibrator broke about a year ago.”
We paused. I turned away from her again. It was a rather long pause too, because I remember thinking that all was over, turning my attention to the TV, hoping another character on whatever show was on would give us a new topic of conversation.
“So,” said Jackie, “What do you think of?”
“Think of what?”
“When you sit on the toilet with your eyes closed?”
“It’s imagination!” I exclaimed, raising both arms in the air, and added, “I imagine things.”
“Yes, I picture…”
“No particular person…What the hell? Who would you think of when your vibrator was working?”
“You,” she replied firmly.
“Aw, that’s so sweet babe.”
“If not you, then Justin Timberlake.”
“Well, there you go! I bet he was really good with his tongue!”
We both laughed, sincerely awkward. “How about you?” She said.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “I picture fictional characters, sometimes old school actresses…” We paused. My eyes darted around the room. I said, “This whole conversation reminds me of a scene in a Woody Allen movie, not sure which one, but in it he explains how he prefers masturbation to the real thing. He explains how, the night before, he’d conjured up a threesome with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, and he says, ‘As far as I know, that was the first time both actresses appeared in something together!’ “
Jackie said nothing. The conversation was over, or so it seemed. “Thanks Woody!” I thought.
Later on that night, I stood in the bathroom for several minutes, staring at the toilet. I think I was smiling again, images of nameless breasts running a marathon in my head, Elizabeth Taylor making out with Sophia Loren.
“Ahem! What’re you up to in there?” Jackie exclaimed from the living room.
“Just saying my goodbyes,” I whispered and thought to myself, “Well, that’s that…”
Walking out of the bathroom and down the hallway, back to Jackie, that same voice surfaced again in my head, saying, “Fuck Justin Timberlake!”
Every now and again, my world demands a sigh out of me. I shake my head and shrug my shoulders, smiling in disbelief, wondering how the hell I ended up here. These moments are most pleasant outside, while alone. I seek them out, summoning my lightheaded burdens for a walk on the beach. They never tire, and I have a thing or two to learn.
There are so many stories that I want to write, characters that I know who belong between the lines, moments that follow me relentlessly…So many stories, but this is not one of them. This is a mirror; I’ll call it an essay of self, a simple sigh that my world demands, every now and again.
I think I’ve always had it in me, solitude. At the peaks of highs, or curled below in the lowest of lows, it has rarely bothered me, but I’m not alone any more. This place, here now, where I sit writing this mirror, it is finally home. Since my return to Canada in 2009, I’ve called so many couches home. So many living room floors have cradled my soul. Not long ago, I spent a few nights in a stairwell. I’ve been everything and nothing, out and about and high and empty, pieces of me scattered all over Toronto…But I’m finally home, and I’ve always loved this city. Almost every night, when I lie in bed, it’s hard not to remember all the other ceilings and all those other restless nights. I’ve been scared throughout it all, but rarely sorry. Well, my sorry self comes and goes.
I’m not sure what I know, or how much I’ve learned, but we all pick things up along our way, don’t we? In our world, it seems as if having two true friends to share your horizons with, is blessing enough. I guess I’ve learned that laughter goes a long way. It took me years to learn not to be so damn picky with my food. I guess I’ve learned humility from hunger. Just recently, I’ve begun to learn honesty. I’ve come to learn that everything takes practice.
I had to write this, whatever this is…This mirror, this sigh, my shadow, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head. No harm in wondering how it all happened, what forces were at play..? There is a silence inside me now, I stand mesmerized by the long road ahead. I’m sure years down the line, when I’m old and gray, I’ll still be telling everyone that I’m the luckiest person I’ve ever known. For the first time, I look forward to those days. Hopefully I can keep it together till then.
I could hear them calling my name, then they picked me up off the floor of the Indian restaurant. The place was packed. Everyone was a blur, except for the woman right in front of me, her plate in her hand, her mouth wide open. I think I was standing on my own for a few seconds. I think I managed to mutter, “Excuse me,” as I made it to the front door, pushed it open and once more the black dots in my eyes came together and pulled me to the ground. Blackness all around, and they were calling my name again, trying to shake me back to life, my friends. My eyes opened, but it took me several seconds to comprehend what was happening. My first thought was, “You’re lying on the sidewalk,” and as much as I wanted to close my eyes again in an attempt to wake up somewhere else, out of this nightmare and into a lonesome corner, away from all eyes, I knew it was all too real. My second thought was, “Fuck,” and it echoed repeatedly until I finally felt I had the strength to raise myself off the ground. Of course, my friends wouldn’t let me be on my way. Gary and Mike grabbed me from either side, step by step, practically carrying me to the car.
I turned to Mike, “Guys, I’m okay. You should eat. I’ll be fine.”
One of them told me to shut up. I think it was Gary. He also turned back to Sam and Rick, who were still at the front door of the restaurant, and said, “We’ll stay with him. You guys settle up.” At least I think that’s what he said.
They opened the car door and I dropped myself on the back seat, Mike leaning over the open door, concern pouring out of his eyes, while Gary sat in the driver’s seat and lit a cigarette. “How do you feel?”
I shook my head and sighed.
“Has that ever happened to you before?”
“Couple of times, years ago,” I said.
As dizzy as I was still, the scent of his cigarette made me lick my lips; my eyes, still hazy and blurred, opened wider and I stretched out my arms and sat up straight…I must’ve done all of this rather frantically, because Mike leaned even closer, pulsating with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“My coat. I left my coat inside.”
“I’ll go get it,” he said.
I sank back into the seat and closed my eyes. When I opened them, Gary was holding out his pack of smokes, politely propped open. I took one and he handed me his lighter.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Ah, shut up with that shit!”
“Out of nowhere,” I grunted, slowly coming back to life, the blur exiting my body.
“What happened exactly?” he said.
“I wish I could tell you.” I closed my eyes again.
“Do you have any food allergies?”
“Do you feel better now?”
“I’m gonna go see what’s taking them so long. Are you gonna be ok?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said and added in a whisper, “Thanks, Gary,” but he was already out of the car and walking back to the restaurant.
I closed my eyes again, letting the cigarette burn on it’s own. I didn’t really want to smoke it, but I wasn’t going to dash it either; just let it burn. I tried to explain what had happened to myself. Surely, my friends would want some answers. I tried to imagine what I must’ve looked like on the ground, while they called my name, trying to shake me back to life. That woman’s face kept flashing back, her plate in her hand, her mouth wide open. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry. Even in my hazy state, when I first opened my eyes and saw her in front of me, I could vividly see the horror in her eyes. Sitting in the car, letting the cigarette burn on it’s own, I knew that her eyes would haunt me for some time to come, and she would never hear my apology.
Slowly but surely, I was back. I turned my head and looked down the parking lot. Rick was approaching the car, two girls following behind him. I sat up straight and thought, “Fuck,” grinding my teeth and dashing the smoke. Rick came over to the door, smiling from ear to ear, and handed me my coat.
“She’s a doctor,” he said, and it looked as if he was trying to keep himself from bursting with laughter.
“Hi,” she said, moving closer, her fat friend behind her, holding a drink. “Are you alright? Has that ever happened to you before?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying to smile, “Really, no big deal.”
“Are you sure?”
“So it’s happened to you before?”
“Yes it has. It’s been a long day. We had some drinks…”
“Alright, but you’re fine now?”
I should’ve gotten out of the car, just to show them that I could stand and talk, but I didn’t. I just sat there and nodded and tried to smile. I looked over at Rick, he thanked them and they all walked back to the restaurant. “Christ,” I thought, closing my eyes and leaning my head back, wanting to cry.
A few moments passed. Sam and Mike came to the car. “Feeling better?” said Sam, patting me on the knee. I sighed and let out a laugh.
“Glad to see you’re back,” said Mike, “That was fucking scary.”
“Oh man,” Sam exclaimed, “Everyone inside was asking about you.”
“I don’t know what happened,” I said, “Out of nowhere… All I remember is getting a plate from the buffet, sitting down, enjoying the fucking food. Everything was great!”
“What happened? Can you explain the feeling?” said Sam, and Mike turned around in the passenger seat, both of them waiting, concerned and curious.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s a weird buzz. It comes really quickly and I’m forced to close my eyes. That’s all I was trying to do.”
“Yeah,” said Mike, “You were leaning over, your head almost went into your plate.”
“I was trying to breathe until the buzz went away. It’s really strange, but it takes over my whole body. I tried to take a drink of water, but I could barely even lift the glass. I felt bad sitting there like that with my eyes closed, but I should’ve just stayed there. I remember Gary asking a couple of times if I wanted to go outside. I thought maybe it would help. As soon as I got up from the table and walked a few steps, everything went black.”
Soon enough Gary and Rick came back to the car. The five of us sat there for a while and they all went on to tell me of the commotion inside the restaurant, the waiters asking them if I was alright, the family at the table behind us, shaking their heads at each other. Rick said, “When you first fell to the floor, I saw the reaction of the woman sitting beside us, having dinner with her kids, and I kind of had an urge to turn to the guys and say, ’Ah, the heroin’s kicking in!’”
We all laughed. I shook my head and closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry, guys.”
“Enough with the apologies,” said Gary.
“What a great restaurant though,” I sighed and added, “I really thought the food was amazing.”
“Maybe that’s why you passed out. Too much pleasure too quickly!”
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” I said. “Goddamn embarrassment. What was with those two girls you brought to the car?”
“Oh,” Rick laughed, “She comes up to me saying that she’s a psychotherapist. She was very curious about your condition.”
“She looked eighteen years old!” I exclaimed.
“I found it hilarious, that’s why I brought them to see you. Ha, psychotherapist!”
“I’m sure she’ll write a paper about it.”
We fell silent for a few moments. I wanted to apologize repeatedly. I knew that the embarrassment of that night wouldn’t leave me for some time. I looked over at Sam. He smiled at me and patted my knee again. I felt tired and closed my eyes.
“So,” said Rick, turning the car on, “What’s the deal?”
“Liquor store,” said Sam.
I downed the two tall cans of beer that I’d brought to work in my knapsack, soon as my shift ended, walking home, welcoming the distant sun that seemed to be back for good. I walked through the hydro field and every which way, all around me, birds were happy and that alone can plant a smile on anybody. And so, warm-beer-buzzed and smiling, I raised my face to the sun repeatedly, probably sighing each time, “Make love to me sun! Make love to me!” Without a doubt a glorious day.
On my way, I sent a text message to Don, asking what his plans were that night, but no response. I turned onto Warden avenue, but before fully leaving the hydro field I turned and looked back, remembering the loss of my beloved iPod, a couple of years back, on the same stretch of grass, among those same towers. For some reason, that night a few of us had decided to run as fast as we could down that field. I remember pretending to be a soldier, ducking fire, and we weren’t even high or anything, maybe just buzzed from a bottle, and one of us had ran and the others followed. My beloved iPod left me forever. Music means the world to me and I’ve never fully forgiven myself, but life goes on and very much so, I turned my back on the hydro field and continued walking home.
More often than not, when spring is talking, I try and join the birds, whistling with my head held high. More often than not, I wish to mimic their movements, I wish to have feathers of my own, when spring is talking. That’s the state I was in, whistling down Warden avenue, smiling at the birds, warm-beer-buzzed and fantasizing feathers. Still no response from Don, but I didn’t care. It was a glorious day and I planned to stretch it out; I had more beers at home, cold ones, and I’d crack one and roll a joint and play some tunes while I sat on my balcony, my feet stretched out, letting the sun reach in between my toes, caressing my soul. Yes, I love the damn sun! Sunlight means the world to me. I was approaching the back gate to my building when I noticed someone’s shadow behind me, the sound of hurried steps, trying to catch up. I turned back suddenly and saw Ming’s dumbfounded face with that hollow smile of his, permanently glued to his mouth, his eyes full of nothing. He lived in my building, Ming, and he was retarded. At least that seemed to be the case.
“Hallo, hallo,” he said, eyes full of nothing, his right hand reaching up to his neck, saying, “You have necklace?”
“Every time!” I laughed.
“Necklace…You have necklace?”
He was obsessed with necklaces. I’d seen him for years and I still can’t recall him saying anything else. He’d approach anyone and everyone, asking to see their necklaces. I’d showed him mine a long time ago, but he didn’t care. He’d ask every time; every time we crossed paths, he needed to see it. Once, in the elevator, some guy was threatening to kick his ass, but Ming couldn’t understand, or maybe he did, maybe it was all just part of his act. Maybe he was on a mission to see as many necklaces as he could around the necks of strangers. He never meant any harm though. Either way, he would’ve received one hell of an ass kicking if I hadn’t intervened. And so, once again I showed him the gold chain around my neck, the one my grandmother had given me for my birthday.
“Ah, necklace,” he sighed.
“Yes, Ming, necklace…Are you enjoying the weather?”
He didn’t answer and just kept walking passed me with the same hurried steps, turning back briefly with his hand still to his neck, signalling me to show him my necklace again, and I did. “Ah necklace…”
I stood at the back gate and watched him walking away for a few seconds. “Crazy bastard.” Most people in Scarborough wont take kindly to random ass crazy people asking them about their jewelry. It was a risky endeavor in Scarborough, Ming’s mission, and deep down inside I worried for him.
Still no response from Don. I checked my phone and scrolled through my messages, walking down the hallway to my corner apartment. Cold beers were waiting, and a joint, and inviting melodies all waiting to dance around me on the balcony with my beloved sun. I was about to put the key in the lock when I heard my sister’s voice inside the apartment, saying, “He’s a fucking asshole!” She wasn’t yelling or anything, but I could hear her so clearly. It was still pretty early in the afternoon and our building wasn’t buzzing yet with the arrival of kids from school. I stood there, listening in and wondering who she was talking to. “Stay here tonight,” she said.
“What about your brother?”
“Are you kidding? He doesn’t care.”
I shrugged my shoulders to her notion and placed my ear on the door. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
“We’ll make dinner, or order in, whatever you want.”
“I just want to forget.”
“I know Jade. It takes time.”
“Jade!” I exclaimed out loud behind the door and instantly closed my eyes and compressed my face in the famous “D’OH!” fashion of Homer Simpson. It was now time to open the door. I walked in and saw both of them staring at me. Jade had obviously been crying. “Hello,” I said, clearing my throat and added quickly, “I’m sorry, I was, um…”
“Eavesdropping?” said my sister.
“I heard you talking. I was wondering…” I replied, taking off my shoes and awkwardly avoiding eye contact from across the room. My palms were sweaty, my voice cracked. “Jesus Christ,” I thought and went on to say, in an attempt to change my tone completely, “How are you Jade? You’re looking good.” Right away there came a voice in my head, rhythmically repeating, “Idiot, idiot, idiot!”
My sister was shaking her head and Jade burst into tears, dropping her face into her tiny hands. My sister waved me away, furious, piercing me with those eyes of hers. I shrugged my shoulders and made a face, the type of face that a dog might make after shitting on the floor. I remember mouthing the words, “I’m sorry,” but she just waved me away and Jade was crying, her head trembling in the tiny cage of her hands.
Standing in my room, I dropped my knapsack on the floor, the tension seeping through the dry wall. I could almost even hear my sister’s hand moving up and down Jade’s back. I must’ve looked like Ming at that point, a stupider Ming, completely at a loss. I don’t remember how long I stood there, soaking in the tension, staring around my room, trying to remember who I was a moment ago and what I had planned for my spring smile. Shaking my head and snapping out of my daze, I thought, “Fuck it,” and I stripped out of my clothes and dashed to the shower.
My sister was waiting outside the bathroom, her arms crossed, her head hanging low with her eyes fixed to the ground, biting the corner of her bottom lip, when I came out of the shower. “Mary, I’m sorry,” I said, before she had a chance to say anything, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Jade’s gonna stay here tonight.”
“Yeah, of course. What’s going on with her?”
“Michael,” she sighed and walked away back to the living room.
A part of me wanted to whisper to her as she walked away, “Mary, I’ve had a long day. Just wanna relax in my room. Please tell her not to cry so loud!” Of course, I would never have said such a thing. These thoughts are all just Don’s influences. I walked back to my room, closed the door and checked my phone. Still no word from Don. I wrote him another text: “At home now. What’re you saying tonight?”
It was time to smoke. I rolled a joint and before bringing it to life, I tiptoed out of my room and into the kitchen, leaping to the fridge like an alcoholic ballerina, and grabbed a few tall cans to save myself from going back and forth.
Hendrix comes to me in waves, waves that ripple through me and my room. I feel Jimi, at any time of day, after any fall…And so, I left it up to him at that point to help empty me, to spread that sheet of impartiality, that fabric of not caring. Jade was still crying, I think, and regardless of how hard I tried, my ears focused in on the dry wall, and I thought of my sister’s hand, probably still moving up and down Jade’s back. Just like that, with these thoughts, my short-lived emptiness formed into anger, and I downed the first tall can and cracked the second, thinking, “Goddamn assholes ruin everything for everyone!” I met Michael once, but I knew Jade for years; practically a sister to me. The thought of him dragging her to this point made me clench my fist and shake my head, downing the second tall can, without a second thought. I burped violently afterwards and became more or less empty once again.
“Yeah,” I said, turning from the window, the joint burning gracefully in between my fingers, the smoke rising up to dance with Jimi in the air. My sister walked in and right away I asked, “Is the music too loud?”
“No, it’s fine. Do you have any liquor?”
“Do you mind coming to the living room?”
In my gut, atop those Moosehead waves, rippling with hunger, a thousand butterflies suddenly soared. Why? Beats me. I put it on account of my angry drinking as I burped once more, reaching behind my bed and pulling out a mickey of brandy. “My emergency stash,” I chuckled, looking up at the door, but Mary was already gone. I looked at the bottle, then at the door, then back at the bottle, the butterflies whispering tales within my veins.
“Sam? Are you coming?”
I joined them in the living room after I had gotten a few glasses. “Thanks,” said Jade.
I dropped myself on the couch opposite them and said, “Don’t mention it.”
“Drink with me,” she said.
She reached for the bottle and poured two shots, running her right hand through her hair, while with her left she held out her glass, waiting for me to pick up mine and give her a ‘clink.’ The butterflies told me to hurry. Goddamn she was beautiful! I wasn’t ready for the brandy, or the silence between us, but I wasn’t going to break it. I’d probably just say something stupid again and so, we all just sat there, silently.
She poured two more shots and said, “I’m sorry, Sam. This is probably the last thing you need right now.”
“No need to apologize,” I said, reaching for my glass and smiling at her. She almost smiled too.
“I’ll be right back,” said Mary, rubbing Jade’s back one more time as she got up and left the living room.
Brandy always knows what it’s doing, and it travels inside with great ideas in it’s pockets, and revelations, bringing forth a gentle rain that soaks sense into everything. Hell, I was definitely an alcoholic. The taste alone on my tongue, unleashes words and simplifies my fears, breaking down barriers of shyness and embracing the flutter of butterflies in my gut. All of a sudden, I said, “It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. So much care we put into things and people, for what? I’m not going to ask you about it, because it doesn’t matter.” I leaned back smiling, but not sure what I had just said. She was staring at me attentively, so I figured I must’ve made some sense. “I have some pot,” I added, “If you want…”
“Let’s do it.”
We got up and she followed behind me as I walked to my room. My palms were sweaty again. I could hear Mary talking on the phone. Then a voice echoed in the living room, “Knock knock!” and both Jade and I stopped in the hallway, she looked baffled and smiled at me awkwardly.
“I think someone’s at the door.”
“Knock, knock, knooooock!” he said again, louder this time, and he laughed and he sighed. I went over and flung the door open to find Don standing there, six pack of beer in his hand, his face beet red with his pupils bulging out of his eyes. He burst out laughing soon as he saw me, and hunched over, laughing and gasping, he almost fell to the floor. I grabbed his arm and was instantly disgusted by how sweaty he was. His shirt was soaked completely. “Thank you, my friend!” he screamed.
“What the hell, dude?”
He came in and I took the six pack from him and he stretched out his arms and back, letting out a deep sigh. Then he turned to me suddenly, whispering, “Dude, I dropped some acid,” and again he burst out laughing, a couple of tears trembling out of his alien eyes and rolling down his face. I wanted to knock his teeth out, but instead I led him to my room, my fist clenched again, my gut calling for the remainder of the brandy. Jade was sitting on my bed and seeing her, Don exclaimed, “Hello!” with his arms stretched out to his sides like a bird about to take flight, or Jesus on the cross.
“Hi,” said Jade.
I shook my head at her apologetically and turning to Don, I said, “Sit the fuck down, will ya?”
He dropped himself on the bed, sighing repeatedly, his hands on his stomach, squirming around, while he took turns crossing his legs, first left over right, then right over left, and so on… “I’m done,” he said, smiling at Jade. “No! No! Don. I am Don,” he added firmly, his relentless flow of giggles flooding my room.
“I’m Jade,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone so happy.”
“Yes, yes,” he replied.
“Acid,” he said, and I could almost feel how damp my blanket was getting under his fat sweaty ass.
“Do you have any more?” she said. He didn’t answer, only jolted up as if shocked into an upright position, reaching into his pants pocket. He pulled out a tiny bag and threw it over at Jade. “I’ve never done this.”
There was a strange silence flowing through me, and I think my fist was still clenched and I still kind of wanted to knock Don’s teeth out, but my eyes fixed on Jade, who was staring into the bag, wondering perhaps if this was the forgetfulness that she yearned for so desperately, whether the contents of that bag would dry up her tears, inside and out. I said nothing. The thought of Jimi passed briefly through my head, his sheet of impartiality gliding in the spring air; he wouldn’t have thought twice about the acid. “Will you do it with me, Sam?”
I don’t remember saying anything, but next thing I knew, both of us were standing, the bag in my hand now, as I took out the two tiny tabs, separated them and gave her one. Don was spinning around and giggling still, then he dropped himself back on the bed. I gave in to the butterflies and put the tab on my tongue. She did the same. Goddamn, she was beautiful!
“Are you gonna burn any more wood?”
I think I was staring into the wind. I could hear him talking, I knew his look all too well, bouncing back and gliding forth, from the fire and up to me; ever worried, gazing at me, as I gazed into the wind. I’m not sure why I didn’t answer. For the better part of that night I’d chosen silence, and now, swallowed up by the blackness all around, I truly sat empty. Why?
“It’s almost one,” he said, casting his light gracefully over our camp. From the corner of my eye, in the blackness, I saw him yawn, sitting hunched over, his flashlight pointed at the tent, waiting for me to say something, to acknowledge the fire, or his yawn, or the two sleepy tents in our camp…Waiting for me to say something, anything. At least that’s how it seemed, but what do I know? I was staring into the wind and said nothing.
Mehdi and Jon, both asleep, carried on their own conversation, in snores and sleepy sighs. Mehdi in his own two person tent, and Jon in the other, monstrous structure of a tent, curled and twisted into comfort in his sleeping bag, to his left, a half-eaten can of pringles spilling on the floor, by his head, a glowing red carton of Du Mauriers, so inviting. I had noticed it all when I’d poked in there earlier to fish out my bottle of tequila. I had already surveyed the inside of the tent briefly, drawing swift and precise lines with my flashlight, trying not to disturb Jon, and even though I was down to my last four cigarettes and Jon had put his full carton so close to his face that he was practically snoring into them, keeping them warm, and safe and sound, I was still very much relieved that he wasn’t clutching them in his sleep, caged in between his legs or to his chest, as he lay in a defensive fetal position, if there is such a thing, while snoring to mark his territory.
I was smiling by the time I snapped out of it and I turned over to Sam, but he’d already gotten up and was walking to the tent. It was almost one, and I was already zoning out and drifting off in a dangerous way. I dropped my head and fished once more for my bottle of tequila, down by my foot, and without a thought, I called out to Sam, in a failed attempt to whisper, “Not gonna burn any more wood.”
“Shut up,” he said as he laughed and disappeared into the tent.
I took a sip of tequila, held the open bottle, took another sip, held it in my mouth, letting it burn through my tongue, the blue agave becoming me. Next thing I knew, the bottle was closed and back on the cold earth, I was standing, hunched over the fire like a junky-fire junky-reaching into the bag of firewood in search of the thickest log. Once I’d found it and put it on the fire and had also gotten a few splinters to prick at in the dark, I sat back down and told myself that I wasn’t going to burn any more wood. “This baby will burn for a while.”
The wind was picking up, angering the treetops, or so it seemed, and it didn’t take long for my fears to surface. Wind can sound like anything; in the blackness all around, in the surrounding bush, there could’ve been anything, and this was frightening, but I was in a peculiar mood, I guess…Like a masochist who presses down on every bruise, who seeks asylum inside his aches, I faced the dark, staring into the wind, extracting the adrenaline out of my fears and getting high, trying to blow the rest of it up to the angry treetops. I was in a peculiar mood, and peculiar moods often demand sleeplessness and so, I lit a smoke and reached once more for my warm blue agave, resting on the cold earth.
It was supposed to be a two month trip, back in the august of 2009. My mother was crying, as was her routine in airports, with goodbyes. I remember shaking my father’s hand and now that four years have passed, I’m positive that he knew I wasn’t going to come back. He knew, but said nothing. Maybe he was in a peculiar mood. Maybe knowing things made him silent. In the end, a few tears and a heart whispering, “Good luck,” summed it all up and I ran away. Yes; I ran from Iran… And now, engulfed by the blackness in the bush, at the mercy of the angry treetops, I felt to have no choice but to retrace my steps. The blackness demanded it; the floodgates propped open and I might have even smiled excitedly, preparing to look back, to bring back times and remember laughs, but there was no beginning or end to these thoughts. Out in the blackness, they all fused together, melting into one, turning about and leaping in time. Hard to follow, but I may have been smiling, for this revolving chunk of moments gone, my memories of every corner where I’d laid my head, had no fear, and it made me less afraid, and this was good.
“You have to eat more fruit! You don’t understand how important it is!” I feel like she would repeat this sentence a few times and I’d look at her and see her cutting an apple and peeling an orange and filling a plate with every fruit out in the market, saying, “My son, I love you so SO much, now please, eat it all.”
I was standing on a crowded bus, posing as an artist or amateur photographer perhaps, with my Canon Rebel camera hanging from my neck. I pointed the lens at the face of an Asian woman sitting in front of me, completely asleep, on the crowded bus, and I clicked away, as discretely as possible of course, but I didn’t really care, never really have. She looked so peaceful and I distinctly remember thinking then, “She looks like a great mom.”
Seeing it in the blackness and hearing my thoughts once again, kind of gave me the creeps, and so I closed my eyes and disgusted, I reached for my smokes. I lit one with my eyes closed still and only slightly opened them as I exhaled my first drag and returned slowly back to the pitch. The treetops weren’t as angry any more and I only had two cigarettes left.
“So what’s your novel about?”
“What’s it called?”
“Nazar Crossing,” I said.
“What’s it about?”
“The name refers to a famous intersection near my home Isfahan,” I replied, clearing my throat and squirming into an upright position. “It’s changed,” I said suddenly. Suddenly nervous. I leaned forward. I thought I had a glass of water, but nothing there on the coffee table.
“So,” he said, his eyebrows forming into a horizontal question mark, “the intersection has changed.”
“No, my novel; the idea!”
Then, I lost myself apparently, wondering whether I’d lost Iran. Memory tends to grow dull if not used, much like a knife.I wish I could have just told him to fix his damn eyebrows and let us move on, but I couldn’t even look at him. Even in that vast blackness where I sat looking back, I knew with a jagged certainty that this conversation would go on forever. That voice…Some voice would always go on to ask me about that novel. Maybe it’s the characters that I once knew…
“I will surely lose my mind,” I said, taking in a few deep breaths, as deep as I could, while I reached to the ground, feeling around blindly for my blue agave, blue agave for my blackness. I decided to have a bigger shot this time, smoke a cigarette as slowly as I could and try not to think. That was actually my only decision. “Don’t think.”
I got up and stretched my back and cracked my neck, all in an attempt to not think, but then poems came to mind, and the dark hadn’t changed one bit, and my fears were still very much alive, lurking in the bush, and so I thought, “Poetry, why not?” And I began reciting poems I’d written, some long ago, in different lands, with what seemed to be different blood flowing through my veins; poems of my scattered life, poems that remained, despite the drugs and my frantic flights.
“When he sits down, he knows. When he gets up, he forgets. ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks. In and out he strives and struggles back and forth. Never constant are his eyes, never seeking the stillness lost, he hovers into hallucinations. The day begs of him to read, the night takes the form of a bottle or a woman, and much later on he falls asleep inside his ashtray. Moving on, hand in hand with habit, weakened by the rivers on his window, faces drift along and smiles are thrown at him from time to time, and his country remains the place that he carries in his bag, and ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks.”
“You’ve reached a whole new level of garbage with that poem. Too sentimental.”
“I wrote it a long time ago.”
“I mean, ‘Weakened by the rivers on his window,’ come on, man!”
“What do you know?” I grunted.
“This is hobo poetry, hobo thoughts. No worries; you have the heart of a hobo my friend.”
And so I recited another one, whispering circles around the fire. I recited poem after poem, but he didn’t say anything anymore. I even waited for him to say something, anything else, but I guess I was done talking to myself. Exhausted, I dropped myself back on the chair facing the fire and let out a sigh. I was surely losing my mind.
“Starting to get cold,” I said and added with confidence, “But I have faith my skin will handle it. I’ve made it here after all. I’m not gonna burn any more wood,” I sighed, and then a yawn and shiver passed, while some wings flapped overhead, too dark to see, but ever so rhythmic, my blackness and I. “I don’t have much,” I continued, “but I’ve made it here, you’ve seen. I have some papers, a few good stories, and more than that, I probably owe the world many apologies. I’m not sure who you are to me, but in this blackness I’ll believe in you. For the first time I’ll let someone know that I was never really a hateful person, mostly just sorrowful. It was all just some sort of sorrow that I turned to hate out of boredom, that’s all.”
I lit my final cigarette and threw the empty pack in the fire pit. That’s when I heard a “click” and Mehdi’s tent suddenly lit up from the inside and he coughed and I watched his shadow as he bounced around and got out from inside his sleeping bag. I was suddenly summoned into a heavy silence, biting down on my tongue, wondering whether I’d been talking out loud this whole time. I couldn’t remember for the life of me. I looked away and tried to hold my breath. I couldn’t have looked away for more than five seconds, but when I turned back to his lit up tent, I distinctly made out the outline of a bear on the gravel road, a few meters behind Mehdi. “Jesus Christ!” I burst out, jolting upwards and dropping my flashlight and kicking the bottle over.
“YO!” Mehdi exclaimed, “Who the fuck is there, man!”
“Mehdi! Mehdi,” I said, my voice cracking every which way, as I grabbed my light and pointed it out at the gravel road. I managed to light up the bear’s ass, as it had walked diagonally off the gravel road and onto our campsite, and was passing on the front end of our van and disappearing from my sight.
“Who the fuck is there, yo!” he shouted again and was beginning to unzip the door to his tent.
“Mehdi, it’s me,” I whispered and yelled at the same time, “There’s a bear on our site! There’s a…”
“Fuck this shit,” he said, zipping the door closed once more. “I really have to piss, man!”
He turned off his light as if to give the bear no indication that someone was home, and I heard a few more whispers from inside his tent that I chose to ignore, mainly him telling me to get in the tent, to not be stupid. I walked instead with calculated steps over to the front of the van, casting the light and surveying the ground and my surroundings with care, my heartbeat filling the inside of my head, reverberating in my bones, pulsating out of my eyes. The bear had gone into the bush and toward the water. I tried repeatedly to penetrate through the trees with my flashlight, for any sign, any movement, listening for any sound. “You’re a silent stepper, aren’t ya black bear?” I said and added in a tone of complete innocence, as if calling forth a frightened kitten, “Come on bear, come on; pss psst pssst… How come you’re not as interested in me as I am in you?” I stood there for a long time, or so it seemed, thinking that maybe I should try and find another path to the water and catch him there. Then came the massive splash and the sound of rippling waves, and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of that bear’s ass in the water. “Great time for a swim,” I chuckled and raising my hand to my mouth I noticed that I’d dropped my cigarette, my final cigarette. I retraced my steps, as calculated as before, my heartbeat still echoing through me. I found my smoke, still burning, and dawn wasn’t far. There was only a few drags left. Needless to say, I smoked it to the filter, no longer thinking about my conversations with myself, or with God.
“Was that my stomach or yours?”
“Huh? I didn’t hear anything.”
“Must’ve been mine,” I said.
“Didn’t you feel it?”
“You elbowed me twice last night. Do you think it’s because you come to bed hungry?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Then why was your stomach growling?”
“I don’t know; I didn’t even know it was my stomach.”
“Just please, try not to elbow me.”
“I’ll do my best,” I replied, rolling over and staring at her, lying on her back, gazing into her phone. Underneath the comforter, I reached over and placed my hand on her stomach. A few moments passed in silence.
“I think Dan got dumped again,” she sighed.
“What makes you say that?”
“All the depressing crap he’s posting on facebook.”
“Ah whatever,” I grunted, rolling over on my back and casting my eyes on the ceiling.
“Are you alright?”
“It’s just pathetic. It makes me angry, that’s all.”
“People…People taking to facebook out of heartbreak or boredom. Loneliness, it’s all loneliness. It used to make me sad. Remember Brian?”
“You can’t compare Dan to Brian. Brian is a huge douche.”
“Yes, a douche, I agree; a pompous, self righteous ass, who never hesitates to remind people how many books he has read, who begins every other sentence by saying, ‘My ex and I…My ex and I are huge Olyphant fans…My ex and I went to that show…’ as if he’s constantly trying to prove to everyone that he hasn’t always been alone, that in fact, he was once in a long term relationship. We were friends for a short while, and I genuinely felt sad for him, reading his posts and watching days go by and nobody acknowledging his loneliness. No likes…Nothing. It was sad, and I, being who I am, try to picture everything. I’d picture him checking facebook periodically, waiting, hoping…Seriously sad. Oh man,” I sighed, “I remember this one time, he posted a Bukowski quote, saying, ‘This is so me.’ The quote read, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me because I am alone, for even at the most terrible moments, humor is my companion.’ I really had to try not to say anything. ‘This is so me.’ HA! I mean, why post something like that if you’re not in fact looking for sympathy? Aren’t you just trying to let the facebook world know that you are alone? It’s just sad.”
“This is pillow talk at it’s finest,” she said.
“There’s always a rant nearby,” I chuckled.
“Let it out babe; people make you sad, facebook makes you angry. As long as you don’t elbow me in your sleep, I’m cool with your rants.”
I rolled over on my side and placed my hand on her stomach once more. A few moments passed in silence. There was a turning; it could’ve been my stomach, it could’ve been the snow falling from the sky or rising from the earth. She was gazing still into her phone. Something was rapidly changing. I was going to tell her how lonesome I had been before she found me, but before I knew it, I was asleep.
That night I dreamt of two kids, my kids. I was older… Staring at them, astonished by their eyes, I knew I was dreaming, and I felt change like never before. I felt new desires wanting to be born, and I felt ashamed that I’d been so angry for all those years.
I kicked the wall, dreaming of a soccer ball. I might have been a child again, doing keep-ups. After about a week of sobriety, I was good and drunk going to sleep, but I somehow remembered that dream, despite the joints and all the shots. I kicked the wall and it was time to wake. Pain takes my sleep away; the slightest pains tell me to rise. I think I whispered, “Sorry,” as I left the bed and she replied by digging her arms deeper into her pillow and stretching her leg further down the mattress. I think I smiled.
Sitting in the living room, I wasn’t haunted by my hangover or the dreary looking Saturday outside, or the stupid kitten meowing at nothing…My notebooks on the other hand never loosen their grip; those notebooks, half-naked nearby, remind me constantly that I have neglected the only healthy habit in my life, for quite some time. I leaned back, fingers curled around my mug of coffee, I recalled a phone call I’d made the night before; my intoxicated impulse to make someone happy…I recalled my brother’s voice and our brief conversation, as I hurried to my notebook to write something about it all, to write him a letter, to write him a poem, whatever, whatever came… I hurried to my notebook, as quickly as one tends to hurry on a dreary hungover Saturday. Who am I kidding; I probably just rose slowly out of my lightheaded form, grunting and clearing my throat, as I staggered over to the table, flipping calmly through my half-naked notebook, to the empty page where the only healthy habit in my life, awaited my return.
“You sounded tired. I remember all those years, watching you read, watching the books that kept your solitude company. You brought me into the page, and I thank you brother; being alone never seemed to scare you and I still admire that. But the other day, you sounded so alone, as if a thousand silent sighs trapped in your throat, were keeping you up. I can’t remember the last time I called, but I’m going to try. It seems as if we must share our voices with each other, our voices at least…I was pacing back and forth, hearing you speak, and looking around, I was certain that life had us by the balls, but for years now I’ve known that you and I are both lovers deep down inside, and lovers manage, lovers somehow…Somehow, you sounded so alone. I paced rather frantically with your solitude in my ears. Faint and distant childhood echoes giving me goosebumps; damn, I had goosebumps talking to you! Did I even ask, ‘How are you?’ It’s been a while, I have to try. You might be happy to know that I’m no longer running the way I used to. I’m trying to take care of this corner that I’ve found; in this corner, keeping in touch can’t be so hard. Brother, please visit us one day. We’ll break a lonesome loaf. If you’re ever in the beaches, let me know, it’s a great place to spread one’s solitude; the water listens…Anyways, this is me, trying desperately to write again, stirring a mix of poetry and sentiment in the early hours of this dreary Saturday, hanging over hopelessly, in search of a path I used to know, one familiar thread; perhaps, you’ll help me with it all once we meet. After all, you brought me into the page and I thank you brother; you always knew how to be alone and I truly admire that.”
There’s an empty field somewhere, where I’m still doing keep-ups. In the hollows of my head there are bruises that keep me calm, pockets of pain that take me back. Sometimes, without even trying, I see that I still might have a few good impulses left within my gut, and I’m still doing keep-ups. These days, I zone out quite often; I blurry my eyes and search through fragments of sentences and incomplete paragraphs, scattered on an empty field somewhere, in my blurry eyes… Sometimes, a single ending floats passed; those single endings remind me that I owe it to myself, to my half-naked notebooks nearby. She was awake and as she entered the living room, my blurry eyes faded inwards and I dropped the pen, leaning back and trying to smile. I think I smiled.
“God!” she sighed, dropping herself on the couch.
“No more wine, ever.”
“In a week or so, maybe” I said, clearing my throat and adding ,”Is this gonna be a two day hangover?”
“All weekend baby!” she exclaimed, bursting with laughter for about a second, then coughing for a few and just as quickly she threw her feet on my lap, wiggling her toes. “Rub?”
In this corner that I’ve found, touch is a forgetful drug, but my notebooks on the other hand, never loosen their grip.
It was difficult,
Remembering to be a better person,
My anger, the light sleeper,
Followed me everywhere.
My restless past would come and go,
Whispering nightmares into my pores.
The sea, our distant home,
Knew all too well how to calm me;
The tides inside, the cliffs and falls…
I realized repeatedly
That I had no control over my smiles.
Despite it all,
There was hope on the rocks by the shore,
Something like hope in the cry of seagulls…
Something that I’d have to remember,
The next time my anger woke.
When I heard your voice today,
I remembered mountains,
Long drives and desert horizons.
In the five minutes that we spoke,
Ancient verses rose within me;
The travels of Saadi,
The loves of Hafez…
When we spoke, I wondered
Why it took so long…? So long
To make peace with our differences.
I wondered, “Was it written?
Why did we…? and who were we?”
In those five minutes, I regretted
We laughed…Within my veins,
I am no longer running scared,
I made puddles into oceans of despair,
But in those five minutes,
Mountains rose and hovering poems
That life was new once more.
“She gets drunk and sends me poems.”
“I guess she likes you.”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
“I don’t know, she might just respect me as a writer. I always give her feedback, like I would to anyone who sends me their work. She never responds back.”
“You don’t even have a phone.”
“It’s all on Facebook. I wake up and see that she’s messaged me at four in the morning. It’s happened a few times.”
“Are they any good?”
“Yeah, not bad…”
“How do you know she’s drunk when she writes them?”
“Just a guess,” I said and continued, “I picture her drunk out of her mind, writing a poem and sending it to me, then not remembering the next day when she reads my feedback. I imagine her regretting it. That’s why our conversations on Facebook don’t go much further.”
“What a crazy bitch,” he whispered, as he chugged the rest of his beer and let out a burp.
“As crazy as the rest of us…I’m thinking, if she sends me another late night drunken poem, I’ll confront her about it.”
“What’re you gonna say?”
“Not sure, but at least I’ll ask her what she was drinking, and if it’s a quality poem, I’ll encourage her to keep drinking. She probably won’t respond back, but I’ll tell her, ‘Listen Sara, no need to be embarrassed. There’s a poet inside you; alcohol is her door, her path…Cheers to your poet!'”
We laughed and ordered another round. “You should turn the tables on her.”
“How do you mean?”
“Write her a drunken poem to put an end to the nonsense. Confront her with poetry.”
“That’s terrific! Let’s write it now,” I exclaimed, reaching excitedly into my back pocket and pulling out my notepad. “Are you down?”
“Sure; I guess we’re drunk enough. Let’s do a shot first.”
We ordered shots and I casually slid my notepad toward him. “Start it off; we’ll go line for line.”
“Okay,” he chuckled, exhaling the tail end of his cigarette and putting it out. He wrote: “They say, long ago chivalry died, but crazy bitches are very much alive…” Jon slid the notepad back to me just as the waitress brought us our shots . “So fucking sexy,” he muttered under his breath. I read his line over and over, spinning my pen between my fingers.
I wrote: “We all love to love…Him, her, you and you; we all pretend like it matters who…”
“This is stupid,” he said.
“As stupid as the rest of us. Just write something, anything; you never know.”
He lit another smoke, he wrote: “So fucking sexy! I’m so wet, the waitress is so fucking sexy!” And then he threw back his head and let loose a laugh that silenced the patio for a moment, as he slid my notepad back to me.
I wrote: “There are poets inside us, and they deserve better whiskey. You’ll rise tomorrow with regret, while your poet is sound asleep.”
Back to Jon; he wrote: “So have a shot when you wake, you crazy bitch!”
“This is retarded,” he said, shaking his head. We laughed and ordered another round, and all jokes aside, I hoped the poet in me would understand.